Intelligent assistance for humans: AI and robotics under the magnifying glass

How is it possible that a small robot in the form of a bee is used to pollinate plants? Or a machine can recognize emotions and react to them? This works when robots are equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies open up amazing possibilities for robots and allow them to perform a variety of tasks that were previously unthinkable.

The photo shows the robot Pepper looking at the camera.
Photo of Alex Knight on Unsplash

This article provides insights into the capabilities and working methods of intelligent robots. In addition, in a conversation with Thorsten Leimbach, head of the Smart Coding and Learning business area Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS and head of the Roberta initiative, learned a lot about the promotion of young talent and AI policy in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The merging of technologies: when AI brings intelligence to the robot

A robot and artificial intelligence (AI) are two different concepts that can be used in conjunction with each other.

A robot is a physical machine. It can perform tasks autonomously or under the guidance of a human operator. In addition, robots can be programmable and have various abilities, such as movement, grasping objects, language processing or image recognition.

AI refers to the ability of machines to exhibit intelligent behavior. It is a discipline within computer science that focuses on endowing machines with capabilities normally associated with human intelligence. AI algorithms and models enable computers and systems to analyze data, recognize patterns, make decisions and solve problems.

AI makes a robot intelligent!

Robotic = programmable machines that execute previously defined commands. A robot must obey the commands and cannot make its own interpretations of the command.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to systems or programs that simulate human-like thought processes and perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

The robot then becomes an intelligent agent, able to perceive its environment, analyze data and act based on it. In short: a robot represents the physical component and AI represents the intelligence that allows the robot to act independently and interact with its environment.

AI technologies in robotics

AI technologies are used in robots in different variations and applications to enable them cognitive abilities, learning ability, decision making and adaptability. These are some of the most common:

  • Machine Learning: Machine learning is a form of AI that uses data and experience to learn a robot to recognize patterns and make predictions. Algorithms such as supervised learning, unsupervised learning or reinforcement learning are used. For example, the robot can use machine learning to learn to recognize objects, understand speech or imitate human movements.
  • Neural Networks: Neural networks are AI models based on the structure and functioning of the human brain. They consist of interconnected artificial neurons and can solve complex pattern recognition tasks. Neural networks find application in robots to improve visual perception, language processing and decision making.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): NLP refers to a robot's ability to understand, interpret, and respond to natural language. AI models are used to analyze user input, answer questions, conduct dialogues and generate text. NLP allows interaction with robots via spoken or written language.
  • Computer Vision: Computer vision refers to a robot's ability to interpret and understand visual information from images or videos. Using AI algorithms, robots can recognize, track, and interpret objects, faces, gestures, and other visual features. This allows them to navigate their environment, perform tasks, and interact with objects and people.
  • Reinforcement learning: Reinforcement learning is a form of machine learning in which a robot is rewarded with positive reinforcement for performing a specific action and punished with negative reinforcement for performing an unfavorable action. The robot learns through trial and error to choose optimal actions in specific situations. He trains complex movements or navigation in dynamic environments.

Intelligent robots: from field irrigation to disease diagnosis

In everyday life we ​​encounter intelligent robots in various forms, be it in the form of automatic lawn mowers or at hotel reception desks. However, they are used much more frequently in areas such as production or agriculture. There are various examples of the use of AI in robotics, we show you a little insight here:



AI-based robots in agriculture are particularly mature. A well-known example is the robot AgBot. It is used in agriculture to automate tasks such as planting, watering and harvesting. AgBot uses AI-based image processing and machine learning to recognize plants, identify weeds and ensure optimal care. This allows for more efficient and accurate agricultural production.



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The RoboBee is a miniature robot developed by Harvard University and modeled after a bee. RoboBee can fly and uses AI algorithms to learn autonomous movements and adapt to different environments. Its primary use is in environmental monitoring and pollination.



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Source: @AldebaranRobots

NAOC is a small humanoid robot developed by SoftBank Robotics. It is used in education, research and entertainment. NAO is equipped with AI capabilities to understand speech, recognize human interactions and support educational applications for children. The robot can move, gesture and interact with humans in real time.



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Source: @RethinkRobotics

Sawyer is a collaborative robot from the HAHN Group in Bochum. It is designed to work safely alongside people and take on simple production tasks. Sawyer uses AI algorithms to recognize people, plan actions, and respond to unforeseen situations. It can use machine learning to learn new tasks and adapt to changes in its environment.

Da Vinci Surgical System


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Source: @Intuitive

The Da Vinci Surgical System is a well-known robotic system used in minimally invasive surgery. It allows surgeons to perform precise movements with robotic instruments. This results in smaller incisions, less blood loss and faster recovery times for patients.

These are just a few application examples for the use of AI in robotics, there are numerous others.

AI funding in North Rhine-Westphalia: Diverse support for technological progress

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia has launched several initiatives and taken measures to promote AI technology. They are intended to help make North Rhine-Westphalia a leading location for AI research, development and application. Here are some examples:

AI strategy NRW: The state government has one AI strategy developed. The strategy aims to use the potential of AI for business, society and administration.

The graphic shows the logo of the KI.NRW competence platform

In this context is also the Competence platform KI.NRW developed. It is the central point of contact for AI in North Rhine-Westphalia. The aim is to accelerate the transfer of AI from cutting-edge research to business, to set up a lead region for professional qualification in AI and to provide impetus for social dialogue. In addition, KI.NRW supports with the umbrella brand Flagships powered by KI.NRW projects funded by the state as AI lighthouse projects.

The one that is currently being founded is also particularly worth mentioning AI Village in Hurth. It is intended to be the first fully digitized campus for research, development and practical demonstration of AI and robotics applications in Europe. One focus should be on education and training. Teachers and students can take advantage of continuing education courses in the areas of robotics, machine learning, data science and data sovereignty.

North Rhine-Westphalia also offers various funding programs that support AI projects. These include, for example, the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Program (KI-IP), which promotes the transfer of AI research results to industry, and the "AI Applications in Industry" funding program, which supports companies in the development and implementation of AI.

Support for teachers and students in NRW: Experience and get to know AI technology and robotics

There is a great shortage of skilled workers in the field of AI and robotics in Germany. According to a study by the German Economic Institute (IW) in 2020, there was a gap of around 124.000 IT specialists in Germany, including experts in the field of AI and robotics. And according to an estimate by the industry association Bitkom (Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media), around 2025 additional experts in the field of AI will be needed by 114.000. The survey also revealed that 77 percent of the companies surveyed believe that the shortage of skilled workers in the field of AI and robotics is limiting their innovative strength. There is a particular shortage of experts in machine learning and deep learning. It is estimated that only around 2.000 to 3.000 experts are currently working in this field.

Artificial intelligence is given a permanent place in computer science classes in NRW

AI is often perceived as a complex technology that can only be understood and designed by professionals. Skills in this area of ​​computer science can be imparted at school in an age-appropriate manner. Therefore, since the introduction of the compulsory subject computer science in grades 5/6 of all secondary schools in the school year 2021/22 in NRW, the field of artificial intelligence has also had a permanent place in computer science lessons. Here, among other things, application examples of AI from the everyday life of the students are discussed and the basic principles of machine learning are taught.

Education in robotics for teachers and students in NRW

There are various offers in the field of robotics and AI for teachers and students. A particularly established player in NRW is the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS. Of all the Fraunhofer institutes, it is most active in STEM education and the promotion of young talent.

“AI will change our lives. We can no longer avoid it,” says Leimbach. "That's why we at the IAIS are happy if we can attract and promote more designers in this field of technology."

Thorsten Leimbach, head of the Smart Coding and Learning business unit at Fraunhofer IAIS and head of the Roberta initiative

The photo shows Thorsten Leimbach.
Photo: Fraunhofer IAIS

The most well-known projects of the IAIS are Roberta and Open Roberta. With the Roberta initiative Since 2002, the institute has offered teachers training in the use of robotics and digital learning materials. Also comes from IAIS OpenRoberta. This open source programming platform is established worldwide and has 350.000 hits per month.
In addition, the IAIS also advises public institutions such as the Ministry for Schools and Education in North Rhine-Westphalia or trains trainers in companies. Thorsten Leimbach, head of the Smart Coding and Learning business area at Fraunhofer IAIS and head of the Roberta initiative, emphasized how important the IAIS is to promoting young talent.

zdi: The community offensive for young STEM students in North Rhine-Westphalia

The topics of AI and robotics are also a focus of the joint offensive for the future through Innovation.NRW (zdi). Many zdi networks and zdi student laboratories offer courses on these key areas. In Paderborn, for example, students in grades 5 to 9 learn the How AI works know. With an offer from the zdi center Lippe.MINT Kreis Lippe, young people immerse themselves in the networked world of Industry 4.0 and program their digital twin. There is an overview of the whole on the zdi community platform offer from zdi.

Since 2006 the zdi robot competition an integral part of the work of the community offensive. The enthusiasm for robotics can be seen in the teams every year. The fact that the competitions are an effective form of promoting young talent is shown, for example, by the number of participants who later become coaches themselves and are professionally oriented towards robotics - like our zdi heroine, the mechatronics technician Sophie Charlotte Keunecke.

Further education and training opportunities in NRW

  • AI4Schools: In the project AI4Schools students can learn everything about AI and get to know future-oriented professions. The training enables teachers to anchor the knowledge in the school in the long term.
  • The Platform AI in vocational training from the Google Future Workshop and the Fraunhofer IAIS offers free online training and teaching and learning materials.
  • NETWORK Q 4.0 - network for the qualification of vocational training staff in digital change. The German Economic Institute (IW) develops and tests regional and industry-specific further training formats for trainers and other teachers in training together with the educational institutes of the economy and other educational institutions. Overview of the educational offer

How is AI changing our school system?

zdi was recently in conversation with math YouTuber and educational entrepreneur Daniel Jung. In the interview, he emphasized that education is one of the areas that will be changed particularly strongly by AI in the next five years. More.

The blog post is essentially based on internet research. We would also like to thank Thorsten Leimbach from Fraunhofer IAIS, who gave a lot of helpful information on the topic and what is on offer in NRW in the interview.

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